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I. PROTO-BULGARIAN INSCRIPTIONS IN GREEK LETTERS

4. The Epitaphs from Pliska and Silistra.

Let us examine the language of a series of short inscriptions from our territory. Special features of these inscriptions are the repetition of some grammatical forms known from the larger inscriptions, particularly the ending -I. As the origin and the meaning of these forms are already known, we can advance more rapidly with the translation.

1) The first inscription reads:

ZENTI ASO E

Details about the location of this inscription were published by Prof. V. Beshevliev. The inscription represents a relatively small stone plate probably associated with a medieval urn funeral. The expression ZENTI ASO E on the plate is interesting in three points:

1. the word ZENTI reminds of the eastern Iranian ZENTA, from the root ZEN;
2. the word ASO resembles the eastern Iranian word ASI (ash, mortal remains), which is still to be found in the languages of the peoples of Pamir;
 3. the word E at the end of the inscription resembles the Indo Iranian verb E (AE, HAE) and is related to the Bulgarian word E (3rd person, singular of the verb TO BE). We can translate the inscription as follows:

ZENTI         ASO           E
OF ZENTA THE DUST IS

2) ANZI ZERA ITZI ASO E

This inscription is of the same type. It starts with the Iranian personal name Anzi, accompanied by the Proto-Bulgarian title ZERA (compare with ZERA TARKAN from another inscription). A similar word (meaning 'messenger') is found even nowadays among some eastern Iranian peoples - for example among the Pushtuns of Afghanistan. The third word ITZI corresponds to the adverb IZI, which is very common in the Indo European languages and means "here" or "here down". Finally there is the well-known expression ASO E ("the dust is"). The translation of the inscription is:

ANZI          ZERA                         ITZI                    ASO          E
OF ANZA  THE MESSENGER  HERE DOWN  THE DUST IS

3) OHSI TZIT MA GILS

Taking into account the peculiarity of the Greek alphabet we can assume that behind the combination HS in the first word is hidden  the sound 'SH', and that the ligature TZ replaced the sound 'CH'. Then the inscription must be read as:

OSHI CHIT MA GILS

The first word is the personal name OSH, which is very common among the Iranian and the Caucasian peoples. In Tadjikistan it is also the name of a city - the city of Osh. The second word CHIT  in the Pamirian languages means an "honour" and is the imperative form of the verb "chistin". The word MA is eastern Iranian (Bactrian) definite article for the word GILS (or GILE), which in that area (Bactria) means a sacred grave urn. The translation reads:

OF OSH HONOUR THE URN

All words of the inscription are eastern Iranian in origin.

4)  EPI IT BILO

With the help of the Iranian words ITIB (wise, holy) and BILO (a dignitary, high ranking personality) this short inscription can be translated as:

OF EPO - THE WISE DIGNITARY

The personal name EPO is in dative.

5)  The remaining inscriptions of the collection are only partially preserved and  their interpretation is much more difficult. But some more complete fragments are worth to be translated. Thus, the following words (see also Supplement 1. 4) are found on a large stone plate, on the both sides of a relief cross


The manner the words were carved show that the right side is not a continuation of the left side, but most likely independent. The two crosses one under another on the left side attract the attention. They perhaps point to two persons buried under the stone plate, each one with his/her own inscription.

The left inscription consists of three words and two crosses.

OHSI IOVOK EALH

The first word is the personal name OHS (or OSH) with the ending I for Dative case. The word IOVOK has the meaning of a "servant, slave, unfortunate" in Iranian and Caucasian languages. And the third word - EALH, has a remote similarity with the Celtic ULF (ash, mortal remains). On this basis, the inscription can be translated as:

OF OSH, THE SLAVE IS THE DUST

The other section can be likewise translated on the basis of the Iranian languages as:

OF AJA - HIS WIFE THE SIGN.

The following considerations led us to this translation. Next after AE is OSOE, which corresponds to the Alanian OSI - woman. Below it is the word OLH, which in the Celtic languages means a "sign". The ending -E of this inscription accompanies words of feminine gender in the eastern Iranian languages (for example in Sogdian), in contrast to the ending I for the dative of word of masculine gender.

The other inscriptions are even more fragmentary and can serve only as an illustrative material. It is noticeable that they frequently contain the same grammatical features (for example the ending -I in the first words of three of the fragments), and also -  the familiar words ASO, OLH, ISI, accompanied by names such as BOJAN and titles such as KAVHAN, BAGA (probably bagain or bagatur), etc. Therefore, no doubt exists that these fragments are also a part of the Proto-Bulgarian epigraphic heritage. They prove that once there were numerous inscriptions in Proto-Bulgarian language in Greek letters.

The material collected in this paragraph shows something that was not sufficiently known: at the time of the First Bulgarian Empire, besides the official court inscriptions in Greek language, there were also numerous inscriptions in Proto-Bulgarian with Greek letters. That applies particularly to the area of the capital.

The preserved Proto-Bulgarian inscriptions with Greek letters provide an inestimable wealth for the Bulgarian history. The thorough investigation yields a series of new data: for example, that the Proto-Bulgarians besides the Greek letters, had also their own letters, which were adapted much better to the specifics of their language.

The fact is best demonstrated by the fragment found at the village Dlazhko, in the district of Shumen (see Supplement 1, Fragment 6) - in places, between the Greek letters there were inserted some special characters. The science had difficulties in answering the question about the origin of these characters. It seemed somehow very improbable that the Asparuh Bulgars used their own alphabet beside the Greek one. However the characters discovered at Dlazhko were found at other places without any accompanying Greek letters. Gradually, there appeared a collection of inscriptions written in that special alphabet which was particularly common in North East Bulgaria.

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